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Alumni

Josh Collins​ (B.A. Linguistics, Computer Science, 2016)

I double majored in Linguistics and Computer Science, and am currently working as a Software Engineer. Looking back as an alumnus, my experience in the Italian program is one of my favorite aspects of my time at the University of Kansas. 

 

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After two semesters learning from encouraging professors, I spent a summer in Florence Italy studying at the Accademia di Giglio. It was shocking how difficult even the smallest social interactions became when the native language was not English; however, I was empowered in finding that I was able  navigate every circumstance that came my way. By the end of the first week, I was sitting down for dinner with my host family and having full conversations in Italian. Traveling to Cinque Terre, Pisa and Rome on the weekends was great, but this program enabled me to do more than visit these places. I learned to cook authentic Italian meals from my host mom who did not speak English, and I had conversations with many people who would not have been able to speak with me otherwise. It really was the experience of a lifetime, and I highly encourage anyone considering these programs to give them a try."

 

Dr. Mary Mba​ (Ph.D. French with a concentration in Francophone/African/Women Studies, 2014)

I am very grateful for everything that I did at KU because they have all come together to complement themselves in my work at Cottey College. I teach courses in French and Francophone Studies, African Studies, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies in addition to Film Studies. 

 

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What would you like others to know about your studies at KU and life since leaving KU? 

Coming to the University of Kansas and Lawrence in general remain one of the best decisions I have ever made. This is probably because I was passionate about coming to Lawrence, about starting that next step of my life, and about feeling free at last to do all the things I loved to do. Lawrence made us (my children and I) feel safe and free. I was so determined to prove myself, and defy all the odds that were stacked up against me and trust me, they were many: a single mother of two children, expecting a third one (I had my third child in my first semester after several complications that resulted in me being on crutches and wheelchair), studying for my doctorate degree and working as a graduate instructor. I had to figure out how to make myself more marketable and make people take me seriously because at the end of the day, it did not matter what obstacles I faced, all that mattered was what was on my transcript and curriculum vitae. So besides taking classes towards my degree, I also took classes towards getting two graduate certificates in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) and African Studies. I participated actively and held leadership positions in students’ organizations. I joined professional organizations, attended and presented at graduate, national and international conferences. I also joined and held leadership positions in organizations outside of the campus community such as serving on the Board of some non-governmental organizations. However, I still had a lot of fun because I always made it clear anywhere I was involved in, that my children were coming along. So as a graduate senator representing the college of liberal arts, the senate provided baby sitters for my children whenever we had meetings or events. My children came along and played in a room at the community center when I was the secretary of Stouffer Place Association, etc. As the president of International Women Connect (IWC), they came to events that were held in the evenings (though most of IWC’s events were held when my children were in school). Etc.

I consider the Department of French and Italian my home and family. I felt so much at peace in the department and I received lots of support. I was initially afraid of letting the department know things about my life, but once people got to know, I was overwhelmed by the amount of support I received, especially when I had my baby and when my dearly beloved dissertation advisor, Dr. Samira Sayeh was sick and later passed on. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through, but everyone was willing to help. Professors offered to read my dissertation and gave whatever editing and formatting suggestions they could. I am eternally grateful to professors Caroline Jewers, Diane Fourny, Tom Booker and Van Kelly. I did not even have to ask to be hooded, because Dr. Bruce Hayes was more than ready to hood me during my hooding ceremony. It is amazing, his wife even came along. My best memory is walking down the hill with all my three children because I had seen a picture of professor Hayes’s son receiving his degree and I wished to do the same. I also had the most wonderful office mates I could have possibly asked for, especially, Mary Kelly. What a joy it was coming to work every day. She completely understood my humorous and playful nature. It was always fun in the offices. I am sure everybody knows how grateful I am and continue to be to the department, but I must say it again. Thank you.

I left KU for Cottey College as a Visiting Assistant professor in the fall semester of 2016 and I was supposed to be here for just one year, but three months into my stay, I was re-interviewed for the position and, I signed a contract to become a full-time tenure track faculty member of the College. This did not come as a surprise to many of my former professors and colleagues at KU because, when I was at KU, I diversified my scholarly activities so much that I did not know if and how they would come together, but I always believed that no knowledge or experience was a waste. I set out to be multidisciplinary and the Department encouraged me. As a graduate student of French, with a concentration in Francophone/Women’s Studies, many doors were opened to me. My interest in films also added another layer to my academic diversity. All these have come together for me. At Cottey College, I am a one-person program, in that, I am the only faculty member in French, and I am working to make it a strong program. To do so, I formed a French Club, Le Cercle français within my first month at the College. This club provides my students a place where they can continue to not only practice French outside of the classroom, but apply and explore their Francophone knowledge and curiosities. We have had several activities since the founding of the club such as a campus-wide Mardi Gras celebration with lots of activities to mark the Francophone week and students were very passionate and involved in the activities. I attended a weeklong workshop on professional French, to enable me tap into existing strong programs at Cottey College by creating professional French courses such as Business French, Medical French and Environmental French among others. I am researching and developing a program whereby I could take students to Canada for a 2-3-week immersion program in French and to Senegal for my Francophone courses during the spring breaks. I have other ideas that I am still toying with.

Has your study of French or Italian benefited you professionally and/or personally? If so, how?

An absolute YES! As someone who loves multi-tasking, French and Francophone studies allow me room to breathe and do many different things at the same time. I have many options for growth both professionally and personally. At the personal level, now that I am no longer taking care of babies, as in doing all the physical things like bathing, dressing, feeding, and carrying them everywhere, I don’t feel the sense of loss that comes with these detachments because I have so much to do professionally. My KU experience was not just about French, but about all the other disciplines and activities that I involved myself in.

I am very grateful for everything that I did at KU because they have all come together to complement themselves in my work at Cottey College. I teach courses in French and Francophone Studies, African Studies, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies in addition to Film Studies. Towards the end of the academic year, I proposed a minor and a certificate program in African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS), which I believe is highly needed at Cottey College as this didn’t exist at the College. I have also proposed many courses for all the disciplines that I teach as well as revised the French curriculum. I plan to propose a minor in French as soon as I get the program to where I am having more students in my advanced level classes. I am able to do these because I was given opportunities to grow at KU. Serving as the lecturer representative to faculty meetings when I was a lecturer at KU exposed me to how some things worked. It was fun and educative sitting in and listening while the Department’s curriculum was being modified. I learned a lot about the processes and procedures as well as the importance of majors, minors and certificate programs. I am glad to be tapping into that knowledge and using them at Cottey College.

My College values service so much, and I continue to serve at various levels. Being a small institution, the interaction between faculty and students are closer and I am currently sponsoring and advising several student organizations besides Le Cercle français. As a sponsor, I endeavor to participate in their activities such as attending their meetings and events. I recently proposed a journal entitled “Cottey Teaching and Research Journal” and it was approved. The journal will start publishing teaching and research work by the Cottey College community: faculty, staff and students, among other things starting from the next academic year. I am continuing with the same enthusiasm and involving my children in my academic and professional life, so everything remains fun, light hearted and blissful.

What advice do you have to students currently studying French or Italian at KU?

I will encourage students in the Department to please take advantage of all the support and opportunity that the Department has to give. Talk to and the ask the professors questions if you are confused about anything. Diversify your interests and be interdisciplinary. First off, if you plan to teach French, take this very seriously, you need professor Kim Swanson’s pedagogy class like a fish needs water. Do whatever part you are assigned in your work as a graduate instructor, be it writing an exam, creating activities for a shared class or drafting the instructions for a composition or a film guide, etc. Trust me, you will need all the knowledge and practice you can get, because, if you end up in a small college where you are doing it alone, everything will come to you very easily. However, if you had avoided your responsibilities in graduate school, you will struggle and students will get you in the evaluations.

There are three major areas that every college and university will judge you on: teaching, research and service. You have to build strong bases in these areas. Graduate school affords you the opportunity to get practice in these areas and build your resume/CV. Don’t waste the opportunities you have by being a “triangular student”, a Nigerian term for a student with little time for anything else other than classwork, who does nothing more than go from the dormitories (hostels) to the cafeteria then to lectures/library and back to the hostels without involving in anything else. Put yourself out there and get involved. Do not just join professional organizations, take leadership positions in them. Present your research works at reputable conferences and get them published. Do not hoard knowledge! No idea is a bad one, so lend your voice to whatever cause you are passionate about (hopefully, you are passionate about something. If not, find something to be passionate about). Always strive to identify the needs of anywhere you find yourself and be generous and proactive with coming up with ways to solve or improve them. Opt to live a life of service and you will enjoy a rich academic, professional and personal life.

 

Beth M. Whittaker​ (B.A. French, History, 1992; M.A. History, 1994)

French made it easier for me to learn Latin when I decided to study medieval history, and I focused my studies on Normandy during the Hundred Years War. A solid grounding in Romance languages makes it much easier to describe and interpret library and archival materials from many time periods, and gives me a broader understanding of the secondary literature than I would have if I only read English.

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What would you like others to know about your studies at KU and life since leaving KU?

I really enjoyed my time at KU. I am the first generation in my family to complete a college degree, and I had no idea what to expect. Since I had studied French in high school, I continued to take classes in French and kind of fell into a French major, knowing that I would want to do “something else” as well. I was able to take a wide variety of classes in the humanities and social sciences before settling into history. While working on my M.A., I started a student job at the Spencer Research Library (where I had worked on a 15th century Norman cartulary for my thesis) and decided to pursue a career as a special collections librarian. French also came in handy as I studied bibliography and the history of the book and worked as a cataloger while pursuing my MLIS degree. I have worked in a number of major research libraries, and am now back in Lawrence. I’m currently the director of the Spencer Research Library and Assistant Dean of Distinctive Collections. Life is funny that way.

Has your study of French or Italian benefited you professionally and/or personally? If so, how?

Definitely! French made it easier for me to learn Latin when I decided to study medieval history, and I focused my studies on Normandy during the Hundred Years War. A solid grounding in Romance languages makes it much easier to describe and interpret library and archival materials from many time periods, and gives me a broader understanding of the secondary literature than I would have if I only read English. The first time I flew on an airplane was to travel to France, and I always enjoy “dusting off” my very rusty conversational French when I encounter French speakers. Most recently, I was able to diffuse a potentially nasty encounter with a taxi driver in Florida by attempting to talk to him in French!

What advice do you have to students currently studying French or Italian at KU?

If you don’t use it, you will lose it. Continue to read in the language(s) you are learning, and converse whenever possible with other speakers!

 

Dr. MaryAnn Diorio​ (M.Phil. 1974; Ph.D. 1977)

Fluency in both French and Italian has greatly enriched my life through personal relationships that came about precisely because of my knowledge of these languages. 

 

 

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Years you attended KU, including graduation year(s)

1970-1977 I was on campus for the academic year 1970-1971 for my course work, after which my husband and I moved to New Jersey where I wrote my dissertation. On a personal note, at the time of my written exams, I was “great with child" and not permitted to travel. I will be forever grateful to KU’s language department for allowing me to take my written exams through a special monitoring arrangement with the language department of the University of Pennsylvania, close to my home. This kindness on the part of KU still resonates in my heart.

What would you like others to know about your studies at KU and life since leaving KU?

During my time at KU, I was blessed to have outstanding professors who provided a learning atmosphere conducive to critical thinking. Since leaving KU, their influence remains a part of my life. Of particular mention is the fact that I was one of the first students to participate in the then nascent Comparative Literature program. As part of this budding program, I had the privilege of working with professors from other departments—Classics, American Literature—who helped me to design a wonderful program suited to my interests. Thus, I was able to graduate with the PhD in French with a concentration in Comparative Literature. At the time, there was no official degree in Comp Lit.

Has your study of French or Italian benefited you professionally and/or personally? If so, how?

For several years, I taught either Italian or French at the college and high school levels. I later started a translation business where I was able to use my language skills to translate French and Italian documents in several fields, including business, history, literature, and government. Today, I am a published author who writes fiction and non-fiction. My latest novel is titled A Sicilian Farewell. It is the second book in my trilogy titled The Italian Chronicles. The first book is The Madonna of Pisano. My fluency in Italian has been of tremendous help in doing the primary research for this trilogy set at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course, fluency in both French and Italian has greatly enriched my life through personal relationships that came about precisely because of my knowledge of these languages.

What advice do you have to students currently studying French or Italian at KU?

I would advise students to appreciate and take advantage of the language department’s interdisciplinary program whereby language study is combined with another discipline. Unless one teaches or translates, one’s professional options are somewhat limited when language study is seen as an end in itself. So, I would suggest that students combine their language studies with other disciplines, such as international studies, business, political science, or other areas in which knowledge of a foreign language will enhance their opportunities.

 

Prof. Arthur K. Spears​ (B.A. in French (Honors), Spanish, and Political Science (Int’l Relations Option), 1965)

I got a masters in international relations during the Vietnam War years. That political and intellectual environment let me to switch back to a focus on languages. 

 

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Career Information

I spent most of my time at KU studying languages, majoring in French (Honors) and Spanish, but also political science (international relations option). At KU, I studied French, which I studied and learned in grade school (my mother was my teacher), Spanish, Serbo-Croatian (as it was called at the time), German, and Italian. By the time I graduated, I was on track to go into diplomacy, for which languages are of course highly relevant. I got a masters in international relations during the Vietnam War years. That political and intellectual environment let me to switch back to a focus on languages—in general. This led to my studying linguistics. I got a masters in linguistics and then went on to get a Ph.D. in Linguistics in 1977, following many great experiences around the world. I got a full-time private-sector job in linguistics (at the Center for Applied Linguistics) before completing the degree and then a full time academic job in 1974 (going on duty in 1975). My longest tenure in an academic job has been at The City University of New York (CUNY), where I served as chair for many years but declined to go into higher administration. I enjoy research and publishing too much. At CUNY, I went first into an anthropology department (CUNY has many campuses) and shortly thereafter into Anthropology and also Linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Center. I worked as a contract interpreter (in French, Spanish, and Portuguese), when I had the time, until the early 1980s. Actually, I did seminar interpreting also. All of the interpreting was for international or internationally-oriented organizations, e.g., the State Department, USAID, the African-American Institute, Crossroads Africa, etc. I retired about a year ago.

Has your study of French or Italian benefited you professionally and/or personally? If so, how?

If was crucial for almost all the jobs I’ve had—and the travel, for grants, internships abroad, study abroad, etc.

What advice do you have to students currently studying French or Italian at KU?

The world is a very different place now, so the paths I took wouldn’t be as useful in today’s world. However, one piece of advice is always valid: study what you REALLY like; then make it work for you. Don’t worry about the low salaries in some occupations. If YOU are CREATIVE and think outside of the box, you can always generate significant streams of income.

 

Kenton W. Keith​ (B.A. French, International Relations, 1961)

I have studied several languages in the foreign service, most notably Arabic, Turkish and Portuguese. However, my French study at KU has been indispensable both professionally and personally. 

 

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Career Information

Served four years in US Navy following graduation and commissioning in KU's NROTC program. While at KU took and passed written and oral foreign service exams. Spent four years in the Navy. Entered foreign service (US Information Service) August 1965. Most of my career spent in cultural and press affairs; posts in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, Syria, Brazil, France, Egypt. Final overseas post was Ambassador to Qatar. Included in my career were three Washington assignments including Director for Near East, North Africa and South Asia. Led USIA negotiating team for amalgamation of foreign service agencies. After retirement from government in 1997 spent 12 years as Senior Vice President of Meridian International Center, the largest NGO cooperating with the State Department for the design and implementation of programs for official visitors to the US under the Department's International Visitor Leadership Program. After 9/11 attacks, I was asked to return to service to set up and direct the Islamabad-based press and information center for the anti-Taliban alliance from November 2001 to February 2002.

Has your study of French or Italian benefited you professionally and/or personally? If so, how?

I have studied several languages in the foreign service, most notably Arabic, Turkish and Portuguese. However, my French study at KU has been indispensable both professionally and personally. I have used French in every foreign posting, without exception. The most rewarding assignment was as Senior Cultural Affairs Officer (Cultural Counselor) at US Embassy Paris. I consider this the most challenging and rewarding assignment of my career, including my assignment as an ambassador. On the personal side, I met my future spouse, a French woman teaching in Morocco for the French government. This was the beginning of my strong connection to France, where we have maintained a summer residence for 25 years.

What advice do you have to students currently studying French or Italian at KU?

If you plan on a career in which your French or Italian will play a role, take every opportunity to put yourself in the spoken environment. Unless you are going to teach, it will be more important for you to communicate verbally on a reasonably competent level (even short of complete fluency), than to be able to read Baudelaire or Dante in the original. Draw your working vocabulary from the spoken language of those around you and newspapers and magazines that cover your area of interest. Note: I would be happy to expand on this view in some other context.


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One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
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